According to British muslim groups, the number of polygamous relationships among British Muslims is increasing.
Imran (not his real name), one of the growing number of second generation British Muslim men who have two wives, says he spends one day and one night with one, and one day one night with the other.
Imran runs his own successful business manufacturing Indian desserts in Birmingham. He was born and raised there.
At the age of 18, his first marriage was arranged.
But Imran said he fell in love with someone else, seven years into the marriage.
He did the honorable thing in the eyes of Islam and married her, instead of having an affair. So he took a second wife. He said it’s better than a man being married and then having mistresses on the side when they can do it legitimately and it’s perfectly allowed.
Imran said, “God has created us the way we are, that mankind desires more in wealth in sexual desires. The main thing is as long as you are just among them, islamically what can be more right than that, if you are taking care of them, fulfilling their rights.”
However Imran did not tell his first wife initially that he had taken a second wife.
Imran’s first wife lives with her in-laws.
He admits the relationship between his second wife and his parents is at times strained. His parents are originally from Pakistan, where monogamy is the norm.
Imran didn’t tell his first wife initially that he had remarried, but she accepted it eventually and now gets along with his second wife.
The wives often go shopping together with all of Imran’s children. Imran has four children with his first wife and two with his second wife.
Imran adds a number of his friends now also have second wives.
According to Khola Hassan, a lecturer in Islamic Law and volunteer on the UK Sharia Council, she has witnessed a sense of a right to polygamy develop particularly amongst third generation British Muslims.
She says no one talked about polygamy when she was growing up in Britain 20 years ago, as it was incredibly rare.
But she has noticed more polygamous marriages taking place in the last 15 years. It is not exactly known how many British Muslims are involved in polygamous unions. They are not being officially recorded as they are illegal.
Bigamy is a criminal offense and those convicted will have a maximum jail term of up to seven years.
Muslims who are already legally married have a religious ceremony known as Nikka to avoid Bigamy. Nikka is not registered as a civil marriage, but rather recognizes the union in the eyes of Allah. Muslims turn to the UK Sharia Council when a Nikka breaks down or someone wants a divorce.
While domestic violence is the most common reason for divorce cited by women, polygamy is now the ninth most common, according to 2010 figures.
However it is not only men who are opting to live in a polygamous relationship.
Aisha (not her real name) works for the NHS, has her own semi-detached house in Birmingham and is a divorced mother of three girls.
She became a second wife eight months ago after having a Nikka ceremony. Aisha’s first marriage broke up when she discovered her husband had been having an affair. However she had an affair with a married man three years later.
Aisha’s new partner wanted to marry Aisha and divorce his first wife. But Aisha had another idea.
She said she appreciated the fact that he wanted to leave his first wife but she didn’t want him to leave his first wife.
Aisha told him, “I want to be a second wife.”
His first wife was very unhappy with the situation when her husband broke the news to her, but eventually agreed to it rather than divorce.
His first wife did not want to know anything at all about Aisha and she certainly did not want to become friends with her. He also agreed he would still support his first wife and their children.
Not all of Aisha’s husband’s family even knows about her. Her wedding ceremony was very small and held at home. Aisha says it works well most of the time.
Aisha says, “I have asked my husband if he loves his first wife and he does say ‘I do care about her’ and yes he loves her as well. That’s the only time I do get jealous, but she was there before me, and you know I didn’t want to take that away from her. I’ve not totally taken him away from his first wife.”
There are predominantly three types of men who are involved in polygamy, according to Khola Hassan’s research.
She says there are the radicals, the orthodox who thinks polygamy is compulsory, almost a sense of bravado or competition. The second group are those who have been forced into unhappy marriages. Usually married to cousins from abroad, tried to make the marriage work, have children, and don’t want a divorce as their parents will never speak to them again, so have taken a second wife. And the third one are those who have a parent living abroad and want someone to look after them.
Polygamy is something Islam permits as it is in the Koran, says Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a member of the Muslim Council of Britain.
In the chapter on women, one verse details how men can marry up to four wives at any one given time, he says.
In the 14th century, the situation came about when there was a battle in which many Muslim men were killed, resulting in many widows and orphans. It was suggested other men should marry them in order to safeguard their property and wealth.
However, there is more context which some Muslims are choosing to ignore, says Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra.
According to the Koran, if a man cannot treat his wives fairly, justly and equally, then he can only marry one woman.
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra believes in reality that very few men can treat even their first wife equally and justly, although he is not against polygamy.
He says, “the moment it becomes secretive, or you start treating one less well than the other then you are contradicting the conditions that the Koran sets out.”
Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra says if it purely done for sexual gratification then that in itself is not a valid reason.
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